Condom Man

A man in Thimphu is popularly known as Condom Man for his passion in distributing condoms to public. Reporter Jigme Wangchuk follows his story

Condom Man distributed about 21, 600 condoms from mid-2010 to mid-2011
At midnight on December 26, a shortish bald man comes walking towards a white Town Ace van with a boxful of condoms tucked under his arms in Changzamtog, Thimphu. He has spiraled, ribbed, flavored, and dotted condoms.
At the parking lot, beside the van, two snugly hooded boys in dark jeans are waiting for the Condom Man for condoms. “Here, twenty each for you two. Give some to your friends who are in need,” says the Condom Man. The boys swiftly disappear into the dark.

Many people in Thimphu go to Condom Man whenever they need condoms, even at odd hours.
Except for his friends and colleagues, most people in Thimphu know 43-year-old Tshewang Nidup from Bumthang as Condom Man. That’s the name he gave himself upon a cold November morning in 2007.

During office hours, Tshewang Nidup is a lecturer at the Royal Institute of Health Sciences (RIHS) in Thimphu. In the evening, he is the Condom Man, driving around the town, distributing condoms.

In February, 1989, Tshewang graduated from Health School in Thimphu, now RIHS. He was posted immediately as a health assistant in Bumthang hospital. He had just turned 21.

Four years later, in 1993, first HIV positive case was detected in Bhutan. In the years leading up to 2007, the number of people living with HIV positive had reached 24.

“That was alarming for a small and close-knit society like ours. Having had the experience of working in clinics as an awareness creator, I thought I could do something about it,” he says, squinting hard as he tries to remember.

Not long after that, in September 2007, he wrote a proposal to be put to the ministry of health. The proposal said he would distribute condoms, for which he needed a little financial support from the ministry. He had health messages to write on his van, two vehicle number plates with his mobile number on top. He needed two pairs of pants and shirts with “Use Condom” emblazoned on back and front and a cap with the red awareness ribbon of HIV/AIDS embossed on it.

The proposal took one full month to get approved. In November, he got the go-ahead with Nu 60, 000 from the ministry. That was what he asked for and he got it. From then on, Tshewang became the Condom Man.

Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing were target towns for his first-ever campaign as Condom Man. Having done his rounds in Thimphu right after his proposal was approved, he drove down to Phuentsholing in his Condom Van and went about the town distributing condoms, making himself conspicuous.

It was December, he remembers. Towards evening he got a call from a woman.

“Are you the Condom Man?” she asked. “I am Condom Man. How may I help you?” he remembers asking her. It was Naina Kala Khadka, the principal of Phuentsholing Higher Secondary School on the other end, and she wanted Tshewang to come and give students at the winter camp a talk on HIV/AIDS.

Tshewang is not bothered having to go around carrying loads of condoms. He does the job passionately. And he has a great support from his family. The first time he went about the business of distributing condoms, it was hard, he says. He went everywhere from night clubs and public places to big gatherings in the towns.

“I get asked what film I have come to show them when I go about distributing condoms in the remote areas,” he says laughing. “We need more awareness campaigns on condom.”

Tshewang believes that from mid-2010 to mid-2011, he has distributed about 21, 600 condoms.
“I often hear through my friends some people talk about me being utterly shameless distributing condoms and all that. But I am not at all bothered by what they say about me,” he says.

Young boys laugh and make fun of him as he passes them. Women shy away from him. But Tshewang is more than satisfied. He believes his objective of creating awareness is done.

On weekdays, he goes out to the taxi parking, truck parking and bus terminal, carrying loads of condoms in his van. He gives passengers and drivers who ask him for condoms 20 pieces each.

“I tell them the importance of using a condom and how to use it. I also tell them to give it to their friends,” he said. “Most prefer dotted condoms. They just walk away if I have plain ones.”

It’s been quite sometime since he last did condom distribution rounds actively. He blames it on winter. “It’s cold now and people retire indoors early. There is not much use driving around,” he says, rubbing his hands to fight cold. These days, he stays mostly home. People wait outside his house, and he goes out and gives them a handful of condoms.

For his continued effort to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and use of condoms, Tshewang was awarded a certificate of appreciation by Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck on the occasion of World Aids Day on December 1 this year.

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1 comment:

  1. Great and inspiring personality. This are the examples of human who do not only pray but apply, ... but live compassion, selfless. Thank you for sharing this example. .. Thank you Tshewang la for being such an example.